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In NFL vs. ESPN over whether Bills-Bengals would resume, an ESPN reporter breaks the tie

Mike Florio and Myles Simmons celebrate the NFL, its teams and fans for the way they united to pay homage to Damar Hamlin as games resumed in Week 18 and hope that it has a lasting impact.

Well, this is awkward.

A week after ESPN tiptoed around the prospect of openly disputing the league’s line-in-the-sand position that no consideration was ever given to resuming the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals, has dropped a bombshell that bolsters ESPN’s position -- and that takes specific aim at NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent.

The item from Don Van Natta, Jr. characterizes league official Dawn Aponte, who was at the game, as a voice of reason who was being pushed by Vincent to proceed with the game.

“The Lord himself could come down, and we were not going to play again,” an unnamed, high-ranking official from one of the teams told ESPN. "[Aponte] was getting pressure. She was not getting consistent and direct messaging that she deserved to receive.”

Aponte reportedly did not waver.

“Whatever crazy nonsense she was getting, man, she held it,” the source told Van Natta regarding Aponte. “She held it strong.”

Van Natta’s item makes it clear that the postponement of the game came not from the league office but from the site of the contest.

“The league did not cancel the game,” the unnamed team official told Van Natta. “The Bills and the Bengals canceled the game.”

Then there’s this, from the unnamed source: “The league screws this shit up because Troy Vincent screws this stuff up. That’s the wrong person in the wrong position at the absolute wrong time. . . . He wants to be the hero, but he will never take accountability. That’s him to a ‘T’.”

Van Natta’s item also contends that ESPN officiating expert John Parry received word that the game would resume on Monday night from “a senior NFL rules analyst inside the NFL command center.”

The NFL, in a statement to, was “adamant that at no time did [the unspecified rules analyst] say anything related to a five-minute warm-up period to John Parry ... John is just plain wrong. . . . We stand by Troy Vincent’s comments and strongly refute this characterization.”

But, as Joe Buck told Van Natta, the league never asked ESPN to put the five-minute toothpaste back in the tube.

“We were on the air for another 40 minutes and no one corrected the idea that the game would resume,” Buck told Van Natta. “No one.”

A source who reviewed the article predicted that the league will try to identify the unnamed team official who spoke to Van Natta. “There aren’t that many,” the source said, “and it’s only two teams.”

And this report likely will cause issues at 345 Park Avenue. Added the source: “I know Troy well enough to know this will cause freaking shock waves.”

The shock waves started last Monday, exacerbated by Vincent’s decision to characterize any suggestion of resuming play as “insensitive” and “ridiculous,” when it would have been perfectly reasonable to explain that the league has a standard protocol that initially was going to be deployed, until it became obvious that the situation called for a different approach.

If that had happened, a huge mess would have been avoided.